Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Modern Classics Vol. XXXV: "Matsahyel" by Ras Iba

"Matsahyel" by Ras Iba [The Outpost Music Workshop - 2010]

If I can brag for a moment - While my faults and flaws may (they do) number more than the hairs on my head, I think that one of my best qualities as a fan is my passion which is particularly flared when I hear something which I regard as genuinely GREAT music. Like everyone else, my tastes and appreciations for things fluctuate with the passage of time, but very rarely is there a case when something or someone really presents me with actual excellence, that it changes at any point. To put it in a useful way here: When you make a great album, I'll spend the rest of my days telling everyone I can exactly how great it is to some degree. Throughout these pages that is something which is best emphasized via our "Modern Classics" series which today hits entry #35 with a project which I can confidently say has, and never will have, no larger or more vocal supporter than me. Already to date we've written about albums such as "The Burnin' Melody" by Lion D, Naptali's "Long Journey" (both of which I would declare the best album of their respective years when the consensus choices were… somethings else), Jah Mason's "Never Give Up", Ras Batch's "Jah Guidance" and a few others which you just won't find many other people who hold them in as high of esteem as I do and today we're doing it again. 

As I said of the time first writing the review of this album, I don't know that I've ever found too many albums which offered as wholly gratifying and edifying of a musical EXPERIENCE as this set did from veteran chanter from out of St. Croix, Ras Iba. Given who worked behind the project, perhaps that should come as no surprise (and it didn't) as the musical works were orchestrated by the incomparable Tuff Lion who would also (supply us with a classic of his own in his outstanding "Ten Strings" set) place the album on his very own Outpost Music Workshop imprint. This album was a three-course meal of a release and exquisitely detailed vibes. Today we add to our esteemed lot of classics an album which was woefully overlooked but completely masterful - "Matsahyel"

The Music

#1. 'Blessed Life'

"Live a blessed life!", Ras Iba tells us on the wonderful opening selection of "Matsahyel". This song has always been one which I though was pretty crucial in terms of taking in the full concept behind this album (and now this would be the type of piece where I can tell you exactly why later on) and, on top of that, it's also a very nice tune and one which brings in quite a bit of sonic appeal as well for in its very basic and straight forward sound is actual musical divinity in my opinion. 

Best Lyrics: "Live a blessed life. Live a blessed life. Oh yeah, give thanks to The Most High. Live a blessed life. Live a blessed life - and hail, King Selassie I"

#2. 'Haile I"

If you do live a blessed life, Iba now reminds you to be thankful for it on 'Haile I' which is an even bigger stop on this record in my opinion. Here, while the vibes took a slight step back in terms of the tempo and the vibrancy of the sound of the song, you still have one SWEET praising piece and a very mature one. The way the song is written is kind of a brief listing of credentials of His Majesty and why exactly it's important to praise HIM. When you make a song like that not only do you, potentially, make a good song (and he did), you also make one which does something which I always say is so crucial in music and particularly in Roots Reggae: You begin to blend the spiritual and the tangible worlds by saying "praise Jah" and then immediately answering the question of "why?". 

Best Lyrics: "HE freed our hearts and minds. Showed us to stand and fight - for our liberation. Showed us how to forgive. Taught us to love and live - self reliance. HE gave us confidence in the victory of good over evil. And we know who Rastafari bless, no man coulda curse. Oh no!" 

#3. 'Matsahyel'

The title track of "Matsahyel" is one which I have become completely unable to listen to or even hear in any way without smiling and, although I wasn't a part of the experience which lead to its creation, I almost feel like I was having so become acquainted with this tune over the past nearly three years now. 'Matsahyel' is the name given to Ras Iba during a trip he took to Israel to play his music. The lasting and prevailing thought of this song, for me, is someone who may've seen him during that tour and seen him play and then, later, come into contact with this song and with this album and see what an ultimately profound and downright MAGICAL impact the experience had on him. That's extremely powerful imagery and I may be the only one who had in thinking of this song, almost three years after its releasing, but it's a fantastic way to take a listener on a musical and spiritual and physical journey along with you - this song was. 

Best Lyrics: "HE HAS FOUND JAH! That's what the elders say. HE HAS FOUND JAH! On that the blessed day. HE HAS FOUND JAH! Oh inna Israel. HE HAS FOUND JAH! Out of the depths of hell. Dem call mi Matsahyel"

#4. 'Herbal Ride'

The obligatory ganja song on "Matsahyel" was 'Herbal Ride' and it is a selection which has grown on me even more over the years and that was no shock because it started pretty high in my estimations as well and has gained a bit of momentum. One of the best things about this tune now is its sonic appeal. You can listen to the words, and a rarely say this, but this song makes SO MUCH sense that you can kind of lose in it the vibes and just the ability to kind of enjoy what you're hearing. So, as opposed to what I usually say: Don't pay such an amount of attention that you just kind of don't allow yourself to realize that you're listening to a beautiful tune. 

Best Lyrics: "Use the herb, wear your crown. LET YOUR LOCKS GROW TO DI GROUND. Fight the oppression - the wicked aggression"

#5. 'Free'

In just about every way I can think of how to discern whether a song is 'good' or not, 'Free' does measure up extremely well and it always has. In terms of its sound, the stringy/acoustic track backing it is one of the very finest on the whole of "Matsahyel" and then when you get into the tune, once again, we get this wonderful dual message which wraps up both the spiritual and tangible in one package. Here that also plays directly into the actual subject of the song which is one of breaking free of oppressive society and, then, to be sure you give thanks for it. Beautiful!

Best Lyrics: "Free from the mental chains. Free from unnecessary pain. Free from self destruction. Free from babylon illusions. Free from misleading religions. Free from mis-education. Free from babylon confusions. Free and back inna wi homeland"

#6. 'Mission'

BOOM! Digging back into this album for the sake of this review I was so damn happy to see that I still held 'Mission' in such a high esteem that it is still my absolute favourite song on the album and almost definitely the single best I've ever heard from Ras Iba to date. Every time I hear this tune I immediately get a large smile on my face and although I wouldn't call it dynamic at all it just has such a glow about the sonic side of it, which serves as a wonderful platform for not only the message of this song, but here's another selection which I really feel plays an important role in comprehending the full message of "Matsahyel" as a full project.

Best Lyrics: "Come help me fight against war and hate. Come help I uplift all wi human race. And take our world to a better place - with Jah Jah grace. Cause so many people still dying. So many of how Jah children still crying. Innocent victims of unnecessary war"

#7. 'Consciousness'

As its title surely suggests, 'Consciousness' is a tune which really is about being more and more aware of one's surroundings as a human being in the world today. Something I think I appreciate so much in 2012 that I probably didn't in 2010 is just how URGENT Iba sounds on this tune. It plays right along with the notion of the tune which is to come into this grand state of awareness (and when I say "come into" I don't necessarily mean to develop it or to arrive there, because it is clear that Ras Iba views this state of being as one which is completely inborn and untapped, not undeveloped or underdeveloped) and to make the world a better place and judging by the vibes, it's obvious that Iba feels this is a step which is long overdue. 

Best Lyrics: "It's time for the black stars to arise and let the world see their light"

#8. 'Love For Mankind'

The first thing that you'll hopefully notice in listening to this song is just how fucking STUNNING that riddim is playing behind it. Bits and pieces of this album show the direct handiwork of the masterful Tuff Lion and, musically, 'Love For Mankind' is definitely one of those moments because this thing was just so nice to listen to. Fortunately, Ras Iba brought some of his own best work to the table as well and the resulting song is one of the signature moments from this album to my opinion. This is a brilliant creation which is kind of a call to action saying that if you have love for your fellow man and woman - it is time to show it. 

Best Lyrics: "There's a war going on between love and hate - a war that will determine humanity's fate. So who are you defending? Is it love?"

#9. 'On My Mind'

I really wanted to go back and have a healthy listen to 'On My Mind' these days because it kind of goes between things for its subject. This was the love song on "Matsahyel", essentially, but it wasn't the type of love song it usually is when we use that phrase, but it kind of was in some respects. Clearly Iba's idea of love is one which is, first and foremost, righteous and honouring His Majesty and, in that and the explanation of that, you get this very complex type of a love song which was just not to be missed. 

Best Lyrics: "She's so bright and so intelligent. When she walks, she walks with confidence. And she has the highest self-respect, cause she knows her body is sacred"

#10. 'Jah People'

'Jah People' has always been amongst the main attractions on this album for me and it, along with a handful of others make me almost sad that "Matsahyel" didn't get what I feel it deserved as far as notice (but, like I said, you can see I'm still doing my part) because this tune, even if just for fans really drawn to VI Reggae (and I don't know that many of them actually got to hear this album), is GOLD! It's a fantastic song. It is a call to action which can also lay a mighty claim to being one of the best written songs on this album and it's just well done on every single musical surface and is a full on masterpiece. 

Best Lyrics: "Rise up and fight all di powers dat be. Cah true wi dun si how di laws are still unfair to wi. Wi don't own no plane, no own no gun factory. So tell mi why there's so much guns and drugs in our community"

#11. 'It No Easy'

'It No Easy' is such an interesting song and that is particularly true from a lyrical point of view because what Ras Iba does here is to acknowledge and then detail the unfortunate allure of violence in the ghettos of the world. Instead of making this type of song which is antiviolence (and this one is that as well) and doing so in a clichéd manner, he makes this very original type of social commentary which, again, really shows how a youth could find such a lifestyle - one revolving around the gun and negative actions - so attractive and so much more interesting than his/her current lot in life. In this type of a song you then recreate and redraw the 'enemy' which is no longer this kid who made so many wrong choices in their life, but the actual system which presented the choices. Very powerful tune. 

Best Lyrics: "My people - it's time to organize. It's time to centralize. It's time for you and I to cut all babylonian ties. And stop this self-genocide. Stop let dem rule and divide. While, on our backs, dem ah steady rise to di sky" 

#12. 'Gun Ting'

I believe that 'Gun Ting' was the first (and maybe only) single from this album and while it wouldn't have likely been my own choice, it still is a very fine selection. It's also very well 'managed' on the album in following 'It No Easy'. The former is definitely a more unique type of an antiviolence track, where 'Gun Ting', which shares its subjectry, is far more straight forward. It's also likely to have had more of an impact because it, at times, can get full-on bleak and it exists as this interesting kind of 'silver-lining-less' (there is absolutely no 'better days coming' type of a sentiment on this song) PURE social commentary. 

Best Lyrics: "More gun than food to eat. Everyday they're flooding the streets - creating gunman out of thief"

#13. 'Warn Dem'

Seemingly quite frustrated by this point - Iba is giving you one final warning shot before the end and he's using 'Warn Dem' to do it. Similar to what I mentioned on an earlier tune, 'Consciousness' (which I feel like I wrote about like five minutes ago) (it was probably more like an hour or two by now actually), something which sticks out so vividly now in respects to this song is a sense of urgency, but this time it's wrapped up in this very interesting sound of confidence. It almost seems as if Iba is playing it safe and distancing himself from the unrighteous, having done all for them that he possibly could. 

Best Lyrics: "But longtime di Rastaman ah warn dem. King Selassie done come now fi teach dem. But no waan take heed, so the wrath of Jah dem ahgo feel"

#14. 'Warrior'

Best Lyrics: "I've got to spread this message that a conscious mind is our Jah-given right 

I did this one in reverse for the first time in who knows how many tracks in thirty five albums now because I just LOVE that line so much! It's just a wonderfully mature thing to say in a song and to say in general. Everything that comes from out of your face - You could cough, clear your throat, sneeze, do anything - and I could disagree with you and this could happen every time. But it doesn't mean that we have to have such a grand amount of animosity just because we disagree on something. It's fantastic and the song which carries it, 'Warrior', is just as nice throughout and an excellent way for 'Matsahyel' to come to its end. 


It is my thought that, based on its title track and a few other moments, "Matsahyel" exists as the musical representation of a spiritual journey taken by Ras Iba which culminated in not only an album but in him becoming someone who, as the elders say, "has found Jah". 'Matsahyel', the song, basically says this and identifies a moment where it all began to make sense - the need for the making of this album - for Iba and that same tune really serves as the ideological headquarters for the album in my opinion. Everything develops out of it being what it is -- this spiritual journey. When you take a step away from that, but keep it in mind and then roll right into a song such as the opener, 'Blessed Life', the song doesn't take on a different meaning, but its already established significance is enhanced and clearer. 

"Just learn your purpose inna life
When you learn it, live your life to di fullest heights
And know seh love is the key to our survival
Yes, for all of humankind" 

The main point in there is LOVE, which during the album takes on a variety of different entities, which is more than appropriate as love does exist in so many different things and, at least one would hope, if you set out on a spiritual journey, that you would encounter much of it along your way. The shining example here, as I alluded to (at least I hope I did), is back to the album-topping tune 'Mission'. What is the mission mentioned on 'Mission'? To spread love. 

"Come with me on this mission, to spread Jah love" 

I'm overly analyzing this tune and I don't care AT ALL, but if you take off the first three words here and leave it alone, you get something else within that entire concept. 

"Come with me" 

WHAT! I'll come back to that in just a second because there is a smaller but related point in there as well which is best illuminated during the song 'Luv For Mankind'

"There's a war going on between love and hate - 
A war that will determine humanity's fate 
So who are you defending? 
Is it love or hate?"

Now look at that. Now we're into a place where "LOVE" is something that is to be stood up for and defended and not only that, but hate is also something which takes on a side as well. We're no longer just spreading it to everyone who will have it, we're PROTECTING it and shielding it from the will of its enemies. Why is that so imperative? Well if you haven't figured it out, Ras Iba is going on a journey and he's inviting you and me and everyone else who wants to go. 


One of the main stops during this journey is LOVE. It's actually the most important and wonderful stay that we'll have along the way. The journey of "Matsahyel" is a loving one. It is a liberating one (hear 'Free'). And it is both a spiritual one and a tangible/physical one. Ras Iba actually had to pack up and go to Israel to make it happen and to find this album which is, essentially, a recap of a spiritual journey and a suggested course for you and I should we want to come along one time. What else is it? A bonafide Modern Reggae Classic! 

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